The rise of digital accessibility lawsuits in the USA
The Americans with Disabilities Act was established in 1990, with the aim of protecting people with disabilities from discrimination. It offers a legal resource for equality in work, education, restaurants, businesses, and all areas of public life. The ADA is part of the Civil Rights division of the United States Department of Justice and was enforced from 1992 onwards.
While accessibility lawsuits have been filed since the ADA was first enacted, most of the lawsuits dealt with employment discrimination, state and local governments’ services and programs, and physical barriers in shops and buildings.
This has changed in recent years. With the increased reliance on the internet for all areas of life like commerce, transport, and communication, accessibility in the digital world becomes even more essential to allow disabled people to enjoy the same services and resources that we all have at our disposal.
One of the most relevant cases was Robles versus Domino’s Pizza, which reaffirmed the nature of websites as places of public accommodation; in the same way as physical shops, websites must be made accessible in order to provide equal services to everyone.
However, Robles versus Domino’s was far from the only lawsuit filed: there were 814 digital accessibility cases in 2017, the year after Robles first sued Domino’s, increasing to 3,225 in 2022. The three states with the highest counts of federal lawsuits regarding Title III (the section of the ADA which covers public accommodations) are California, New York, and Florida, with New York being the state with the most cases of digital inaccessibility.
One of the main problems present in the USA is the lack of standards referenced in ADA Title III. Unlike regulations in the European Union and Canada, the lack of specific guidelines makes it more difficult to find a benchmark by which to judge a website’s accessibility. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines have, however, been recommended to companies and businesses that settled with plaintiffs, and the USA Department of Justice recently published a guide on web accessibility.
Because of the way ADA Title III is set, most of the enforcement relies on the efforts of individuals with disabilities and activists that present the lawsuits, which has created tension between disability rights advocates and business owners in the USA. There is a need for further efforts and active campaigning to provide inclusive spaces for people with disabilities, and an important improvement for the ADA would be adding technical standards to reference. Another key part of this work is communicating the need for disability accommodation in all aspects of daily and public life, including digital spaces, so lawsuits aren’t necessary in the first place.
With the modern world’s increasing reliance on the internet, digital accessibility is even more important to ensure equal access and participation in all areas of life. Making a website or mobile app accessible is not only good practice and good for business, it is also the right thing to do.
In 2025, EU legislation will change to require accessibility compliance for all organisations offering products and services in the EU. This also opens the possibility of lawsuits being filed against organisations for digital inaccessibility. Many companies in the private sector have already engaged IA Labs to help them in becoming fully compliant; contact us today for advice and guidance on your accessibility journey.